Sometimes, it’s just not fair to judge a book by its first issue. They’re just so different from what you’ll end up getting on a monthly basis. First issues have an incredible amount of work to do, work that’s extremely hard to do well in 22 pages–in fact, a lot of first issues are a longer than those that will follow.
I say this because, while The Life After #1–written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Gabo–is a well-executed comic book, with great art and deft storytelling that rewards multiple reads, I am far more interested in what might lie ahead than what actually happened. But more on that later.
The Life After #1 begins with Jude, a young man who leads a terribly monotonous life. It’s pretty standard sad-sack stuff, but really well depicted by Gabo, who chooses to convey Jude’s static life in a meticulously composed fifty-panel grid. It’s one of my favorite things about the book, and it’s the first double-page spread.
But something is off about Jude’s life, and we’re clued in right from the start. He’s being monitored. Everyone is. And when he finally decides to break his routine, to break everyone’s routine, he realizes the truth–he’s in purgatory, and so are the people around him. He lives in a mundane afterlife for people who committed suicide. And now that he’s awake, whoever’s in charge isn’t going to be happy.
At this point, my only real gripe with The Life After is all the comparisons I want to make–not to something like The Matrix, although it did come to mind–but to a little-seen 2006 film called Wristcutters: A Love Story. It’s a black comedy about purgatory for suicides that hits a lot of the same beats. Having seen that film, it sort of robbed me of that thrill you get when discovering something entirely new, and I was worried that The Life After wouldn’t be all I hoped it would.
That’s not to say it isn’t good–there is very deep, somber stuff being explored here, and it’s well worth your time. It just felt familiar to me, and I had trouble adjusting to that.
And then Ernest Hemingway showed up, and I think everything is going to be alright.
I’m serious. Hemingway is going to be a big part of the book. Ask the author, he’ll tell you.
It’s not so much Hemingway’s inclusion that excites me, but what it represents. It was that spark I was looking for, that flash of something new and exciting and full of possibility. It suggests that this world, this story, is only going to get weirder and more whimsical, that there might be more afterlifes to explore than this one, that there are interesting questions and ideas to wrestle with here.
The Life After is off to a slow start, but I’m extremely hopeful for the ride that lies ahead. It could be a good one.
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